Before last week, I didn’t know National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD, for short obviously) was a thing. I missed sharing the appropriate photo(s) to social media (I’ve been in a social funk recently), but I took most of the week to reflect on what I would have posted if I had felt like posting. Immediately, my mind went to my mother – the woman who fostered my start in running.
From a young age, I can remember following my mother to our basement and watching as she dutifully followed along with exercise tapes or ran miles on the treadmill. When I was in college, my mother raced her first half-marathon. She was the motivation I needed to sign up for my first half-marathon. She is also the origin of my competitive nature – if she can do it, I can do it!
After a day of thinking on it, my running story included dozens of other women.
Running has followed me through life’s ups and downs, and there have always been running-friends, too. Over the years, I have shared training runs, races porta-potty lines, and blister remedies with Katie, Jacklyn, Michelle, Christine, Sarah, and no less than a dozen other capable women. I’ve always felt that the physical act of moving forward (walking or running) helps your brain work through a problem. And these ladies have earned a semesters worth of clinical hours for the amount of time we’ve spent running and dissecting each other’s psyche.
In college, Katie was always faster than I was, yet I agreed to run with her knowing it would push me to be better. And when I convinced Jacklyn to run a marathon with me, she thought I was her motivator when all the while she was keeping me on track. And Michelle and Sarah likely have little knowledge as to how much they saw me through life’s lowest moment – they always answered my “want to go for a run today?” text with a “yes.” Christine inspired me to try something new – trail running – and helped me experience running in a way that made it fun again.
More recently, I’ve met women who inspire me to not give up on my goals even though I’m soon leaving my 20s behind – women in their 30s and 40s who are in their prime of running. Brenda and Sarah come to mind immediately – competent professionals, elegant women, and fierce runners. They have inspired me to recalibrate my perception of age and goals.
Then I thought even bigger – Shalane Flanagan.
She was the reason I wanted to run a marathon in the first place! I watched her race at the 2012 Boston Marathon and fell in love. She made it look beautiful and hard at the same time. She, and later Kara Goucher, became role models; the headlines I followed and names I cheered for at televised races. I researched how they trained, what they ate, and how much they rested. Their success provided a roadmap for me to follow before I knew how to navigate on my own.
It would be untrue to say women exclusively shaped my story.
Men have played their parts, and even some leading roles, in my running story. Long trail runs and races forged friendships with the likes of TJ, Jason, Austin, and Mark – providing a male perspective on running, training, and balancing life. When I took the plunge to join a new running group, I received a warm welcome from Doug, Walter, Peter, and Jeff. These men each influence both my relationship with running and my physical pursuit of the sport. But it’s not men who I identify with as role models – it’s women.
I identify with those who look like me and talk like me. Those who have faced the same challenges I have and who have surmounted them with hard work, perseverance, and grace. I’m lucky enough to always find women like that in ample supply in my life.